MONTREAL - At one end of the Bell Centre ice, a blue, vinyl tarp - nicknamed the "Shooter Tutor" - covered most of the net, left vacant since Flyers call-up Anthony Stolarz did not make it to Quebec in time for practice.

At the other end of the ice, Ray Emery turned aside shot after shot, shouldering the workload. That might not change for a while.

The net will belong to Emery for the foreseeable future, as the Flyers determine a course of action for Steve Mason, who suffered his third injury in 6 weeks on Sunday in Washington.

"You don't want to look too far ahead," Emery said. "I'm always excited to play, but I don't want to see 'Mase' get hurt. If you look past [this], you're going to get ahead of yourself."

A report from Comcast SportsNet yesterday said Mason will soon undergo an arthroscopic procedure on his knee soon to determine the cause of his pain.

No source could confirm that report to the Daily News yesterday, saying a decision had not yet been made. Officially, general manager Ron Hextall said the Flyers will "probably not" release a medical update until today. He is still listed with a "lower-body" injury by the team.

Here's what we know, according to sources: Mason did aggravate his right knee injury in Washington. The injuries are all connected. Mason underwent an MRI yesterday in Philadelphia and was awaiting further instruction.

If a scope is indeed the call, Mason could be back relatively soon, if the minimally invasive look-see reveals no structural damage. He hinted last month that the Flyers considered more "drastic measures," including surgery.

Meanwhile, the Flyers' entire goaltending structure is in flux.

Stolarz, 21, will dress against the Canadiens tonight for his first NHL game. He'll wear uniform No. 79, the first time that number has ever been worn in franchise history.

"I'm kind of speechless right now," Stolarz told the Allentown Morning Call after his call-up. "As a kid, you always dream of it. To get the call, it's very exciting. I'm very happy."

Stolarz might not be with the Flyers for long. Frequent backup Rob Zepp - who himself was injured when he collided with Binghamton's Matt Puempel in the third period of Friday's Phantoms game - is unavailable for tonight's game, but will likely be ready to return for this weekend, according to a source. The Flyers continue their road trip in Columbus on Friday and in Buffalo on Sunday.

Hextall acknowledged on Sunday that Stolarz is "probably not" ready for the NHL. As Zepp's backup with the Phantoms, he has a 3.04 goals-against average and .911 save percentage - still learning the tools of the trade as a first-year pro in a man's league.

If Mason, 26, were to miss significant time, it isn't unfeasible for Emery to play the bulk of the games over the next month. Between now and March 7, the Flyers have only one set of back-to-back games (Feb. 21-22) and a series of 1-hour flights mixed in with home dates.

The schedule is entirely manageable if Emery is up to the task. That hasn't always been the case this season. Coach Craig Berube's confidence in Emery has been on full display at times - from riding Mason in borderline questionable spots with injuries to yanking Emery less than 6 minutes into a game.

Emery's season has been one of extremes. He went 4-0-1 to start the season. Last month, it wouldn't have been a stretch to see the Flyers stick with Zepp as the full-time backup. Then you watch Emery's brilliance in a Jan. 20 overtime win over Pittsburgh or Sunday's gutty win off the bench and think that is preposterous.

Emery has the league's worst save percentage (.886) among the 42 netminders who've appeared in at least 19 games.

"It's been a different stretch," Emery acknowledged. "You have ups and downs throughout a year all the time. It's a different position. You can't look back. I'm just excited to play here in Montreal."

Berube said yesterday it was no secret what Mason "means to the team." Mason had a .959 save percentage and 5-0-1 record with two no-decisions in his last eight appearances.

"He's been a really good goalie for a while now," Berube said.

For now, Berube has little choice, with the Flyers' scant playoff dreams living and dying on Emery's pads. Even though they grabbed 11 out of a possible 12 points in the last six games, the Flyers have made up only two points' ground in the standings.

"Consistency and getting in the net, night in and night out, will help, for sure," Berube said. "He'll definitely feel better about himself. His numbers aren't where he wants them to be, but Ray's a proven winner, and he's won a lot of games in this league."

On Twitter: @frank_seravalli


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